Writing an Academic Book, Part IV: The Writing Process
This is the fourth and final post in my series on how to write and academic press book and get it published. In Part I, I summarized the criteria that can help you decide whether you want to write an academic book in the first place. Part II addressed the issue of how to choose a publisher. The third post in the series offers advice on how to get publishers to accept your proposal. In this part, I offer some advice about how to get through the often-difficult and painful process of actually writing the book.
If you write effortlessly and well, and have no trouble getting readers to understand your meaning, you probably don’t need need the advice in this post. If you’re well-organized and consistently hard-working, or have few competing commitments taking up your time, you can probably skip large parts of it, as well.
For the rest of you, the good news is that you can write successful books even if you’re not a naturally talented writer, and even if you’re as lazy and disorganized as I tend to be be a lot of the time! If I can get a book done, you probably can too.
There is no one fool-proof way to write a book. But I can, nonetheless, offer a few suggestions that are likely to be useful for many academic writers. I’m far from an ideal writer, myself. But I have written six books, including some that attracted considerable interest and attention. I also have plenty of painful experience battling problems that often beset writers.
I. Getting the Book Done on Time
As emphasized in my first post in this series, writing a book usually takes a lot of time. To add to the problem, there is a great temptation to procrastinate and delay.
Publishers will usually give you a substantial amount of time (six months to a year or more) to finish the manuscript after your proposal gets accepted. And most will let you take some additional time even after the official deadline passes. This flexibility can be helpful. But it also creates incentives to put the project on the back burner while you attend to seemingly more pressing matters—or just waste time surfing the internet, watching the internet, guzzling beer, or doing any of the many other activities that may be more fun than working on your book!
Before you know it, the submission deadline is approaching and you face a tradeoff between submitting a subpar, rushed work, or asking for more time. Extensions are fine, up to a point. But if you ask for too many, the editor and publisher will gradually lose faith in you, and your project may eventually get terminated (most contracts have a clause enabling the publisher to do that if the author doesn’t deliver on time). A good rule of thumb is that it’s a bad idea to stretch things out more than a few weeks beyond the deadline in your contract. If you go beyond that, you’re living on borrowed time—both literally and figuratively.
I don’t have data on this. But I would bet that more books and other academic projects have been killed by time-wasting and procrastination than by any other cause. Believe me, I know from painful personal experience!
There is no foolproof solution to this problem (at least none that I know of). But you should at least be aware of it, and develop a strategy for dealing with it ahead of time.
One possible approach is to develop better time-management skills, so you waste less time to begin with. Jason Brennan’s recent book, Good Work if You Can Get it: How to Succeed in Academia, has lots of excellent time-management advice for scholars. Read it and learn. But the fly in Brennan’s otherwise wonderful ointment is that following his advice requires considerable self-discipline. And inadequate self-control is one of the reasons why many of us procrastinate in the first place!
Another strategy is to recognize that you have some tendency to waste time, and try to work within that constraint. Thus, you can set aside more time to write the book than would be strictly necessary if you had strong self-discipline. Publishers will take it better if you ask for some extra time up front than if you request it at the last minute, after missing a deadline.
If you have trouble forcing yourself to sit down and work, you can partly compensate by pushing hard when during those times when you do manage to force yourself. I often find it hard to get started writing. But when I do get started, I can push ahead for hours on end. Knowing this about myself, I try to create multiple time blocks when I can write, knowing in advance that only some of them will pan out. But those that do can be extremely productive.
Think also about what
Article from Latest – Reason.com